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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2198570
A 984 word story written for the Writer's Cramp Challenge 8/19/19.
The Perfect Dress

"I've got nothing to wear. Sorry, but no." Alice spoke firmly, secretly pleased that she had an excuse not to go. She hated these stuffy company dinners.

"That's okay," her husband said. "You've got tomorrow. Go out and treat yourself to something special."

And that had been the end of the discussion. Simon had decided, and with the instructions to 'treat' herself, Alice's argument was moot.

Hating using cards to pay in the shops, Alice withdrew cash from the machine outside her bank. It had been a long-standing anxiety inducer, that she would not be able to recall her pin number. She'd have it written on a piece of paper, but she refused to go looking when she was standing there in front of a cashier.

There was a new boutique in town. Alice had looked in the window a few times; the clothes were always great, but the price tags were always greater. She'd go in there, for she had seen the perfect dress in the window a couple of days previously. Simon had told her to 'treat' herself, and, after all, it was only at his insistence that she was going along at all.

* * *

Geraldine watched the woman as she pushed her way through the doors. Not a regular, that was obvious by her current attire, but a customer was a customer and she was definitely in need of making a sale.

Wages were not up to much in the boutique. There was a commission on sales, though, and it was this that was uppermost in Geraldine's mind. She had bills that needed paying and, if she was honest, her bank balance was getting very near to the red.

The customer seemed to know exactly what she wanted. In fact she pointed the dress out. Geraldine suppressed a frown. She was almost certain that the sizes they had in stock would not fit the woman, and this proved to be the case.

Maybe, though... "We do have the size smaller if you would like to give it a try."
"I don't know..." the woman replied, clearly having doubts.

"Go on, give it a try. Some of these clothes are made on the large size." Geraldine had quickly ushered the woman in to the changing cubicle with the dress, knowing that getting a customer to try something on was a good part of the way to making a sale.

When the woman emerged, Geraldine kept her expression neutral. To say it was a bit of a tight fit would have been an understatement. Thinking quickly, she grabbed the next size of garment that they had in stock, two sizes bigger than the one the woman had requested.

So, it was a bit big. The woman was about to give up, Geraldine could tell. She could not let the chance of that bonus slip through her fingers. "Of course, you could take it in," she'd said.

"No time, I need it tonight. Never mind..." The woman was turning back to the changing cubicle.

"Of course," Geraldine said in a hushed voice, after checking that none of the other salesgirls were nearby, "you could always give it a wash. That would probably bring the size down just the right amount."

"Really? Okay, then. If you're sure."

* * *

Alice removed the tags carefully, then looked at the label. No matter how long she looked at it those words, 'Dry clean only' stared back at her. But the girl had said to wash it. She was selling this type of garment every day; if anyone should know, the salesgirl should.

There could be no doubt that it had shrunk, the sales girl had certainly been right about that. But it had not shrunk to fit her. In fact, Alice thought, it probably would not even fit her teenage niece who was stick-thin. It was a disaster.

How was she going to tell Simon? He'd think she was mad for buying it, and that was before he found out quite how much she had paid. Angrily Alice tossed the offending garment into the bag. She'd take it back on Monday, get her money back. And she'd give the salesgirl a piece of her mind.

Rifling through the contents of her wardrobe, Alice sighed in defeat. It would have to be the black one with the gold edging. She had worn it the previous year, but hopefully no one would remember.

* * *

There was no getting away from it, Geraldine thought; she was nervous. Perhaps she shouldn't have pushed that woman in to making a purchase. With a sinking feeling she saw the very same woman through the shop window. There was no doubting that she was heading their way, for in her hand was the very same bag that Geraldine had handed her on Saturday.

"Toilet," she said, clutching her stomach. Maybe she was a coward, but she was definitely going to let someone else deal with this one.

The woman was raising her voice. Melanie, the manager, was having to do so too, just to get herself heard.

"I'm sorry madam but we do not exchange without a receipt. But not only that; the tags have been removed and the garment has been laundered."

"But that was at the suggestion of one of your staff!"

Geraldine ducked down, feeling the full force of the woman's fury in spite of being hidden away.

"I doubt that! Would you like to point her out to me? All our staff are here this morning."

'Please don't notice, please don't notice', Geraldine silent repeated in her head. She held her breath, waited...

The crash of the door signalled the customer's departure. She'd wait a second or two, before slipping back out of the toilet and taking her place on the shop floor. She would ensure she stayed busy and would not catch Melanie's eye.

(984 words)
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